Demystifying Vegan Ingredients
When I first went vegan, I came across strange ingredients in recipes that I had to look up. I still have to at times, which is good; it keeps things interesting and proves that there is always a growing list of great plant-based ingredients out there. I’ll try to periodically add to this page and hopefully shed some light on my favorite go-to ingredients.
Basic Meat Alternatives
Seitan: flavored and baked wheat gluten. Not a good choice if allergic to wheat. But you can find this in a chicken or beef style and usually located by the tofu. Westsoy makes a good variety. Can be used for enchiladas, potpies, stir-fry, etc.
Tempeh: an Asian food prepared by fermenting soybeans with a rhizopus. This is great for marinading; in a stir-fry; sandwiches; burgers—you name it. There are lots of different brands, but again, Westsoy makes good varieties.
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP): made from defatted soy flour, a bi-product of extracting soybean oil. It is a dried product and needs to be re-hydrated with water, or broth. High in fiber and protein TVP is ideal for soups, stews, and casseroles. Oftentimes, you’ll find it in the bulk section of most health food stores.
Tofu: a soft food product prepared by treating soybean milk with coagulants (as magnesium chloride or diluted acids) —called also bean curd. Tofu comes in various forms from soft to extra firm, to baked to vacuumed sealed. Most tofu is found in the refrigerated section, but Mori Nori makes a silken, creamy tofu (found in the Asian section) that is great for dips and spread—has a yogurt-like texture.
Veggies that make good meat replacements: Portobello mushrooms, beans, legumes, eggplant, squash, and zucchini. And be sure to check out the Protein Page for other meat options.
Meatless Product Brands (Burgers, “Chicken,” Hot Dogs, Sausages, etc)
Butter: Earth Balance pretty much is the best stuff out there. They make “buttery” spreads and sticks for baking and I have found them to taste great and work great for baking. They also only use palm oil from a sustainable source.
Cheese: Most different kinds of cheese are available—it’s just a matter of which brand you prefer. For slices, I love Field Roast’s Chao Slices as well as the cheddar and Swiss-style slices from Daiya, who also makes shreds that actually melt. Galaxy Foods makes all kinds of vegan cheese from slices to shreds to a vegan Parmesan. There are some more gourmet brands like Dr. Cow Tree Nut Cheese, Heidi Ho, and Kate Hill that are typically available at places like Whole Foods. Remember, you can make your own: Hard Cashew Cheese, Almond Cheez Log, and be sure to check out The UnCheese Cookbook.
Eggs: Most of the time, eggs are used as a binder, especially when baking, but tofu is a good substitute for things like quiches, omelets or scrambles. You can use ground flax seeds (usually 1 Tbs flax meal + 3 Tbs water =1 egg), apple sauce, bananas, vegan sour cream, vegan yogurt, and silken tofu can also be used. I’ve also used chia seeds mixed with water. Luckily there is Ener-G Egg Replacer, a powder that when mixed with water, gives an egg-like texture and consistency. Other brands of egg-replacer powder that work great, too: No Egg, Bob’s Red Mill.
Milk: See Calcium Page
Ricotta Cheese: Tofu works great. Try my go-to recipe for this.
Sour Cream: Tofutti!
Sauces, Condiments, & Powders
Mirin: Japanese cooking wine. Found in the Asian section and here’s a list of different brands.
Miso: Japanese seasoning product made by fermenting rice, barley, and/or soybeans. What you get is a thick paste that can be used in sauces, dips, dressing, and soups. It’s high in protein and rich in vitamins and nutrients. There are different varieties and most recipes will specify which one is recommend for that particular recipe. Look for it in the refrigerated section with the tofu. I like Miso Master and Cold Mountain brands.
Nutritional Yeast: Deactivated yeast that is great source of B-complex vitamins and low in saturated fat and sodium. It has a cheezy flavor that is great—almost needed—for cheezy sauces and mixes. You can add nutritional yeast to so many things for added nutrients because it blends in so easily and doesn’t have a weird taste. Sprinkle a little on popcorn—it’s pretty good. I like NOW brand, but you can find it in the bulk section of health food stores.
Shoyu: Is a combination of soy beans and wheat. (Tamari, below, is just the soy beans). Apparently, when it comes to gluten, there isn’t any in the final shoyu process.
Tahini: Sesame seed paste most commonly used in hummus. This also is great when used as a sauce with tofu or tempeh. I like Joyva brand.
Tamari: A little thicker than soy sauce, but basically the same thing; made from soybeans and can be used as a dipping sauce, in a marinade or in a stir-fry. There are lots of different brands and I tend to just use Kikkoman’s. Tamari is also gluten-free.
Umboshi Vinegar (also called Ume Plum Vinegar): A by-products of pickling umeboshi plums and is great for making salad dressings, sauces, drizzling over veggies, or in a marinade. Look for whole umboshi plums in the Asian section—they’re pricey but work great in sauces and even are amazing for a hangover! Just chew one (they’re very salty) and last night’s partying will no longer be painful. Eden Foods is a good brand.
Vegenaise: Just as it sounds, it’s a sub for mayo, and a pretty good one at that. Made by Follow Your Heart, you’ll find it in the refrigerated section with the other nondairy and vegan products. I also really like Just Mayo.